New Internationalist

Burma: hunted down

The first anniversary of the popular protests against fuel price rises in Burma has come around. And the security forces are stepping up their game, rounding up pro-democracy activists.

It was with a sinking heart that I read that 35-year-old Nilar Thein has been hunted down and is now being held, address unknown. Every Burmese dissident within the country must prepare for a life in which peace and comfort are strangers and sacrifice a constant companion. Thein, a leader of the 88 generation students group, exemplifies this. In her short life she has served two terms in Insein and Tharrawaddy prisons.

As the 88 generation students were the first to lead marches against the fuel price hikes in 2007, before the mass outpouring on the streets of the monks, they have been particularly singled out as troublemakers. Many, including Thein’s husband Kyaw Min Yu, have already been rounded up. One group is currently being tried. Everybody knows this is legal theatre; the outcome will be ‘guilty’ verdicts and continuing incarceration in some of the most inhuman prisons of the world.

A year ago, Nilar Thein left her infant daughter in the care of her in-laws and went into hiding. On the run in Rangoon, she nevertheless got out messages periodically to the outside world. In June this year an essay written by her was released which ended:

When the government itself is the abuser of human rights and the perpetrator of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, who will protect the victims? Who will end their tragedy? Who will secure the joyful reunion of mothers with their children? The appeasement policy of some bureaucrats is shameful. Effective and urgent action from the UN Security Council is necessary to help the women in Burma. No more debate. Take action. Please let me be happily reunited with my daughter.

Well, now Thein is on the run no more. It is reported that she was on her way to visit the elderly and ailing mother of another activist who lives alone when the security forces struck. Nilar Thein’s work for human rights in Burma has been honoured by organizations in the West. This will be little comfort to her now she has been captured and may even mark her out for harsher treatment. And one baby girl who will likely not see her mother again for a long time is learning bitter lessons about injustice and sacrifice along with the alphabet.

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  1. #1 mairead 24 Sep 08

    Giving with the one hand, taking with the other

    It is truly saddening, and infuriating to see the tactics currently being used by the authorities in Burma. Depsite the release of a number of political prisoners yesterday, over 2000 political prisoners continue to be held. Arrests of activists like Nilar Thein have increased in recent weeks, and monks continue to be harassed in the run up to the anniversary of what has become known as the 'Saffron Revolution'.

    Even while the prisoners are released, in what may prove to be a grand public relations gesture, exiled media groups like the Irrawaddy and Democratic voice of Burma are recovering from cyber attacks on their websites. These attempts to silence major voices of dissent and to limit negative coverage of SPDC actions in Burma may strike fear into the hearts of lesser men and women, but the Burmese exile media are not to be deterred. In the words of Aung Zaw, Irawaddy editor:

    ’The junta is mistaken. Ultimately, the flow of information is unstoppable. The Burmese regime's cyber criminals cannot penetrate the strongest firewall of all;the spirit of desire for change.’

    Let us hope this spirit of desire remains strong. It will be needed for activists to continue in efforts to persaude the UN security council to take action. It is certainly a positive thing that Win Tin and others have been released, but let us not be distracted from the plight of the others who remain incarcerated at the whim of this corrupt regime.

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About the author

Dinyar Godrej a New Internationalist contributor

Dinyar Godrej has been associated with New Internationalist since 1989, but joined as an editor in 2000. His interest in human rights has led him to focus on subjects like world hunger, torture, landmines, present day slavery and healthcare. His belief in listening to people who seldom get a chance to represent themselves led to unorthodox editions on (and by) street children and people with disabilities from the Majority World. He grew up in India and remains engaged with South Asian affairs.

Dinyar wrote the original No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change (2001) and edited Fire In The Soul (2009).

An early fascination with human creative endeavour endures. He has recently taken to throwing pots in his free time.

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